[The following story is entirely true, except for the parts I made up.]
You know that feeling, where you're awakened on a Tuesday by daylight instead of public radio and your initial sense is that something has gone terribly wrong? And then you look at your alarm clock on and discover you've just overslept by three hours because last night at 3am, in a lull of exhaustion, you set your alarm clock for 7pm instead of 7am? And the first words out of your mouth are "shit shit shit shit shit," and then, without warning, seventeen separate but equally important things rush into your brain at once and pile up there, confused, like 100 unnumbered, out of order index cards containing your notes for the day? That very moment – right before you begin to sort out those notes and remember to call work first, then feed the cats, then give yourself a hobo's bath, etc. – where you're stunned, angry, overwhelmed, and unsorted: that's how I've been feeling every waking minute for the last several weeks. Whether I'm seated at my desk or running from one appointment to the next, I constantly feel like I've been shocked into consciousness and I'm completely unprepared for what's to follow.
So it was interesting to return from North Carolina and have the ice water shock of work, writing, comedy, relationships, impending visitors, social obligations and a filthy apartment dumped on my head. And it was especially interesting to attend a very important meeting, in which I was expected to pitch television show ideas to a network executive, in this completely addled state.
I had one idea that a friend and I have been kicking around for quite some time, and I was more or less prepared to talk about that at length, in whatever detail was required of me. It's an idea I've been pretty excited about, for quite some time. However, I knew I wanted to present another semi-solid idea – one I've developed on my own. The only problem is, all of the ideas I've developed on my own seem kind of insane to me. Not the sort of thing you'd want to approach network television with. Additionally, these ideas currently exist as notes written in moleskine notebooks, on the backs of business cards, inside book jackets, and on my skin. (I actually had a fairly elaborate structure for a one-hour drama about a prison escape sketched out on my skin in a full-torso tattoo. Imagine my disappointment when I saw the pilot for PRISON BREAK. Fortunately, I know a doctor who laser-erases and alters tattoos. I had the whole thing covered-up and changed, so now my tattoo is just a long proposal for a half-hour comedy about an incorrigible alcoholic and his zany adventures. The show is tentatively called, "WINO FOREVER.")
I finally cobbled something together, the aggregate of some old ideas that all had a common theme: extremely specialized professionals who are not very good at their particular career choice, for one reason or another. The idea didn't really click until my subway ride over the meeting, and it kind of rose out of the panic I was feeling during the commute. (i.e. I am also one of those specialized professionals who, at least in this moment, might not seem to be very good at his job.)
Because the idea was still so fresh to me, it had a two-fold effect on my meeting. The first effect was positive: I was incredibly excited about the idea, and grew more excited about it as I continued to speak. The more we talked, the more I realized this really was the product of a lot of good but disparate ideas that have preoccupied my creative thoughts for many years. I was a little giddy, in fact, which formed a nice chrysalis around my sweaty nervousness.
The second effect was perhaps a little less positive. It became very clear, very quickly, that I wasn't able to answer some really basic questions about the show. I knew what the show was about – the style, the format, the characters' psyches, all of those large sweeps – but I had not even considered most of the details. This occurred to me when I was asked for the central character's name. I had no idea. None, really. Hadn't even thought about it. Until that moment, he existed in my brain as The Guy Who Does These Things And Might Have A Mustache I Think. Horrible name for a character, really.
Faced with miniature crisis, I began to improvise. I became Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects, using the interrogation room itself to color his own fabricated history.
"Sounds like fun, Todd. What's this character's name?"
"Um...his name. His name is...Macintosh. Mac. He's Mac. His name is Mac Whiteout. It has layers of meaning!"
"And his job? Well, he...um...designs tote bags for public television fundraisers. At a company called...now get this...you're gonna love this...his company is called THAT SWEATER MAKES YOU LOOK GAY, INCORPORATED. I know! It's a little out of left-field, but FUN! You know? Quirky! Not Wild Palms failed-TV-show quirky but safe, delightful Malcolm in the Middle quirky. Ha ha ha ha ok?"
"The pilot? Well, in the pilot, Mac has a big meeting you see? And, um, he's so nervous he shits his pants right here on his boss' couch – what? Did I? No I meant RIGHT THERE on his boss' couch and yes, what is that smell? Only in New York, right? Ha ha ha can is it OK if I just sit here for a little while?"
The good news is, the show has already been picked up. I guess my enthusiasm was like a steamroller. So, please, watch UPN in September, 2006, for my new series, CAN I GET YOU SOMETHING TO DRINK NO THANKS I BROUGHT A SNAPPLE.